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ReadNext Poetry Squad
R ap music and Hip-Hop culture grew up much as any folk form does: through the ingenuity of a people living in oppressive surroundings and creating art through economic constraints. Rap’s roots can be found in the African griots—traveling musicians who moved about to give the news of the day through semi-spoken, semi-sang performances. Town criers, if you will, with a sense of rhythm. Bearing this in mind, the “instruments” of early Hip-Hop culture included rappers’ poetry, voices (human beat-boxes), and turntables (erstwhile percussion instruments that doubled as means to a wealth of recorded excerpts). While many Hip-Hop performers never realize the protest potential in their music, many others have made the most of it. Ensembles such as Public Enemy were wonderfully militant in pieces like “Fight the Power” and on topical albums like Fear of a Black Planet . More recently, artists such as the Coup and Dead Prez have offered seriously radical Hip-Hop to mainstream audiences.
The ReadNex Poetry Squad is a quartet of young men and women of color who perform in a spoken word style born of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Within their urgent statements, one can feel the spirit of luminaries such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and Amiri Baraka. Yet, the multi-cultural spectrum of their September 2006 CD release Social ISsUe brings the message into one not only of self-identification, but of internationalism. Happily, this group infuses Spanish-language rap into strains of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” to create a powerful hybrid. The interplay of culture, genre, and social study is at the heart of ReadNex. They offer the listener visions of a global ’hood.
Bits of seemingly off-the-cuff dialog interspersed with Hip-Hop are accompanied by strong electric guitar and an almost orchestral use of turntables. The spoken word becomes song, transforming into pure rhythm, and back, as band members Free Flowin,’ Cuttz El Colombiano, Decora, and Latin Translator put it forward. Fear not, aging activist, you will not be deafened by the intelligently programmed drum machine. It grooves as a pulse that will only drive you to the next cut. Here’s Hip-Hop that is anything but exclusionary or sexist. This music is as exciting as it is welcoming. This is the kind of CD you’ll want to borrow from the youth in your life. Its progressive, anti-war, social action message is as apparent as any. Standout cuts include “I Write,” “Wade,” “Ms. Education of Bling,” and “Ready for War.” “Cold World” offers a brilliant combination of multi-culti rap and Stax-like R&B vocals, while the disc’s closer, “Ghetto,” could be the next wave of the Last Poets.
Okay, many leftists prefer their musical poets to carry acoustic guitars—or perhaps punk-laced electric ones. Let’s keep those as relevant as ever while also considering the strength of the new. Think of that while you ponder the importance of bringing more young folks into the movement. Then wonder why the ReadNex Poetry Squad was overlooked as performers at the recent peace demonstrations in DC and will probably be overlooked at the next.
John Pietaro is a protest musician, labor organizer and writer from New York (www.flamesofdiscontent.org) .
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.